Dec 19

Fennel and Grapefruit Salad

I can honestly say that I remember Thanksgiving, and I turned around and it was today (December 18). In-between then and now is a complete blur. I have been busy at work, taking care of our dogs, Christmas shopping, Christmas wrapping, holiday parties, and now…Holiday cards to be sent. I usually am more ahead of the game, but for some reason between family visiting and birthdays to celebrate I lost a hold on time and here we are. One week away from Christmas and I was not prepared for it until yesterday!

Yesterday, I packed my last box and shipped out our last packages out to the east coast. (That is where almost all of our family resides.) Our dinning room table for the last week looked like a controlled chaos of wrapping paper, scotch tape, ribbons, and scissor clippings. I must say that I am happy to have it all back to normal now. Martini and Latte came with me to ship the packages, and if you ask me they were really happy to see the packages go. I think they have been feeling a bit neglected. Somehow, we all have felt that way. Oh, how we love the holidays!

Fennel and Grapefruit Salad

Fennel and Grapefruit Salad

With all the hustle and bustle to get to the grand finish line of the holidays I have almost forgotten to cook! On my way home from work the other day I stopped by one of the produce vendors at the market and asked the workers “What looks good this week?” they responded with: “Fennel, grapefruit, romanesco, and blood oranges.” I purchased a couple of them all and headed home. While throwing together dinner I whipped up a salad with the fennel and the grapefruit. I was hoping for something light and refreshing with a clean taste. The result was a shaved fennel salad with grapefruit slices. It was tossed together with hazelnuts, farro, and pomegranate seeds. It was just what the crazy agenda of holiday prep called for. Give it a try. If I could whip it up in no time, I am sure you all can to. The most complicated thing was cooking the farro; and after all, that is just simmering – how hard is that?

Fennel and Grapefruit Salad served up and ready to be devoured.

Fennel and Grapefruit Salad served up and ready to be devoured.

Grapefruit and Fennel Salad (feeds 6)

1 medium fennel bulb, some fronds reserved (about 2 tbsp)

1 large grapefruit; peeled, cut into 1/4 inch thick slices, and slices quartered

1/2 cup pomegranate seeds

1 cup of hazelnuts; skinned, toasted, and roughly chopped

1/2 cup farro

1/4 onion

1 garlic clove

2 bay leaves

Olive oil (about 1/4 cup)

Sea salt and fresh black pepper to taste

First, place the farrow in a 2 – 3 quart pot with about 2 – 2 1/2 cups of water. To that add your onion 1/4, garlic clove, and bay leaves. Gently simmer it all until your water is almost all absorbed by the farro. Once the farro is tender (about 45 minutes) you can remove the onion, garlic, and bay leaves, Strain any remaining water and chill your farro in the refrigerator.

Next, thinly slice your fennel. Trim the bottom end and discard and slice it thinly until your reach the stalks and top of the bulb. (You can use a mandolin to do so, or you can just as well use a sharp knife.)

Then, in a bowl place your farrow, fennel, grapefruit, and  pomegranates.  Toss it together and refrigerate it for at least an hour (or up to a day ahead).

Finally, when ready to serve, drizzle the olive oil over it. Add the hazelnuts, sea salt and black pepper. Toss it well and sprinkle the fennel fronds over it and serve.

Dec 09

Dijon and Onion Tempeh. It’s not really old!

I am writing this post from my new computer! Yes, you read that right…brand spanking new! I have been wanting one for a long time now. Actually, I have been dropping hints about it for over a year now about how badly I wanted, needed, and yearned for a new computer. Nagging? Maybe, but it is here! I have one, and I cannot express how happy I am with it. The old one was just that, old. It took forever to find files, update itself, or think when trying to open a program. Using this new one last week I told my husband I wanted to weep. It was so fast and it didn’t freeze up on me. It was a completely smooth experience that did not leave me cursing, or threatening to throw it out my third floor window onto 3rd Avenue so a bus could run over it. (Unfortunately, there were many days like that with the old one.)

My beautiful new computer! (It is love at first sight.)

My beautiful new computer! (It is love at first sight.)

Brian gave me this computer for my 40th birthday. Yes, I reached my fourth decade. Some people asked me: How does it feel to be forty? The only logical answer I could sum up: Exactly the same as 39 did! I hate questions like this and I am guessing there is no right answer because I feel you are never giving the person asking what they want to hear. I’m never sure what people expect you to answer a question like that with? Are you supposed to say: I feel old? Fabulous? Over the hill? Depressed? Young? Wise? What I do know is I am not feeling as old as my last computer. And as far as I know Brian and our dogs are not wishing me to be run over by a bus either — so, all is good I guess!?!

Prep in place for the Dijon and Onion Tempeh.

Prep in place for the Dijon and Onion Tempeh.

Besides the computer, the birthday, Thanksgiving, and the holiday season fast approaching we have not spent much time at home. We have been rushing here and there and just about everywhere. Just this past week we were barely at home together, let alone sit down to a nice homemade meal. But between the craziness I made it a point to make a nice meal for Brian and I the other night. I dug deep into my childhood memories (a very long way considering I am so old now!) and made a meal my mom often made for us growing up. It was simple, comforting, and just what our crazy schedules have been calling for.

Tempeh- dijon and fried onion coated, and baked to a nice cripiness!

Tempeh- dijon and fried onion coated, and baked to a nice cripiness!

It is a dijon and onion dish she always made with chicken cutlets. There is no recipe really, you just dip or smear the chicken in the dijon and then coat it with the crunchy fried onions you always see this time of year. You bake it and serve it up with whatever you wish. I made it just the way my mom would have, with one exception. I did not use chicken. The vegetarian in me opted for tempeh instead, and let me just say it was just as good as when my mom made it. We feasted on this dish with some potatoes and veggies. I surprised myself that I was able to pull together such a great and delicious meal with all of our nonstop craziness we have been dealing with. This old and classic dish of my mom’s was new again! Not too shabby, but then again it is a lot like how I feel, not old. Just eat a meal from your childhood and it will keep you young, even if you have to reinvent it.

Dijon and Onion Tempeh plated and ready to eat.

Dijon and Onion Tempeh plated and ready to eat.

Dijon and Onion Tempeh

Tempeh – enough so that you have one to two pieces per person

Dijon Mustard, one small jar is more then enough for 4 – 6 people

1 container of Fried Onions (I personally like the Trader Joe’s brand)

Olive oil

First, place your dijon and fried onions in separate bowls or plates and set aside. Set your oven to 375 degrees, and line a baking dish with parchment.

Next, slice your tempeh into 1 inch thick slabs and set aside. Coat you parchment lined baking dish, lightly with olive oil.

Then, dip or spread the dijon over the tempeh until it is well coated. Then dip the tempeh into the fried onions. I like to place the tempeh down into the onions until they stick in a nice coating, Once coated place them, sparingly apart on your prepped baking dish.

Finally, drizzle the olive oil lightly over the coated tempeh and back about 20 – 25 minutes. You are looking for the tempeh to have browned edges and to be crispy. Remove from the oven and serve once slightly cooled.

Nov 17

Homemade Candy Apples

I grew up in New Jersey during the late 70”s and 80”s. In my personal opinion it was a great time to grow up there. When autumn came around it was not uncommon to spend lots of time outdoors. The trees were gorgeously bright in colorful hues and the air was always crisp with a slight aroma of hay. There were football games to attend (Yes- I was a cheerleader in my former life), leaves to run through while tossing them in the air, and pumpkin patches to visit with family (it was somewhat a ritual way to spend a afternoon together).

There was a particular farm my family would go to religiously. It would all be decorated with scar crows and corn husks, along with bales of hay.  Pumpkins would be everywhere with multiple squashes and gourds, there was cider to drink, hot donuts to eat, and candy apples! In my adolescent mind it was the perfect feast.

Homemade Candy Apples

Homemade Candy Apples

As many things do, time changes. That farm sold and became more of a “strip mall” when I was nearing my twenties and it was not the same any more. There still were pumpkins, donuts, cider and all; but the nostalgia of it all was just not there. Maybe I just grew up? But there is a side of me that missed those fall days that were cold enough to be wearing a sweater. I would be holing a small pumpkin, shielding my eyes from the sunshine, and munching on a candy apple. By “candy apple” I literally mean an apple that has been made into candy of sorts. Not those soft and gooey caramel ones. I mean rock hard, red as a fire truck, sugar candy coated apple.

Yes, I have not lived in New Jersey for quite some time. But I still have those memories and I long for the taste of a good candy apple. Living here in Seattle I see caramel apples galore, dipped in chocolate too, rolled in all sorts of nuts and candy (although they look tempting)…those are not the apples I am missing. I want the hard crunch and crack of sugar as you bite into the apple. The bright, crisp, and slightly sour taste of an apple next to the sugary coating is such a contrast – to be honest it is quite like joy in my mouth. I miss it and wanted one desperately. Luckily, living in Washington and being the state known for apples we have more than a few varieties to say the least. Just go to any number of the farmer’s markets and you will see bushels full, and it seems like every week or so there is a new variety that makes an appearance. I love looking them over and picking up a few pounds worth to eat as the week goes by.

just one of the many Farmer Market Stands, with so many different variety of apples!

Just one of the many Farmer Market Stands, with so many different variety of apples!

So after craving a good candy apple I went to one of the farmers markets and picked up some honey crisp apples. They were not too large in size and I tasted them to be sure they were crisp. The flesh of these apples had a nice and bright flavor that I felt would pair nicely with the sugary coating. I picked up some unsweetened coconut shreds and headed home. (I really do not have an explanation for the coconut but the ones I use to eat had coconut on top of them.) Once home I dug into me cabinets and pulled out my thermometer and sticks to hold my apples with and I was underway. Within the hour we had Candy Apples! Yes, much like the ones of my childhood; but not bright red once. As the red coloring is just what it is, food coloring. I opted to be more natural, using no coloring and evaporated cane juice instead of white sugar. They were just like I remembered.  My husband and I sat around after dinner and crunched away at the candy apples. We grinned and giggled like kids too. Sometimes revisiting a food memory can be just as fun as you remember.

Finished - and waiting to be eaten.

Candy Apples Finished – and waiting to be eaten.

Candy Apples (feeds 8)

*Notes- you will need a thermometer for this. If you do not have a candy thermometer, I personally find one that has a probe on a cord that attaches to your “base” telling you the temp works great. These are usually used for roasts or something like a turkey; but I use it all the time for cooking something like a custard or sugar.

**Notes- because I used and all natural sugar is was golden in huge to start….that is why the sugar has some color. If using white sugar for this your end result will be a clear sugar coating.

 

8 apples, as many as needed (I like Honey Crisp, Pink Lady, or McIntosh)

2 cups of sugar

¾ cup of water

1 tbsp of light corn syrup

1 cup of unsweetened coconut shreds

Candy or lollipop sticks

 

First, wash your apples well and completely dry them.  Working on a flat surface, firmly hold your apple in hand while piercing it with the sticks. You want to pierce the apple though the center core of the apple. I find it works best to get the stick as far in as possible in order to “hold the apple once it is candies.

Keeping and organized work space is essential.

Keeping and organized work space is essential.

Meanwhile, prepare you work space. I like to have a parchment lined baking sheet ready, next to my pierced apples, a trivet for your pot of sugar, and a small plate filled with the coconut shreds.

I find a thermometer like this works really well for cooking sugar.

I find a thermometer like this works really well for cooking sugar.

Next, in a clean pot (anywhere from 2 – 4 quarts big) place your sugar. Over the top of the sugar pour your water and with your finger gently stir it together to be sure all the sugar is wet. To this add your corn syrup. At this point I add my thermometer and then place it over medium heat (see photo above). Without touching your sugar let it come to a simmer and cook. You must keep a close eye on the temperature. You are waiting for the sugar to reach 290 degrees F or 143 degrees C.

Then, when temperature is reached; place your pot in the space you have reserved for it in your work space. Carefully – you do not want to burn yourself – take an apple by the stick and dip it into the cooked sugar, roll it back and forth to be sure it gets coated, and pull it out of the cooked sugar. I gently and carefully let it drip over the pot and give it a gentle shake to knock off any excess sugar.

Finally, place the apple stick side up in the coconut. Once the coconut sticks (it takes only seconds) place on your parchment to cool and harden. Once sugar has hardened it is ready to eat. Apples will keep for two to three days at room temperature. Be sure to keep in a dry place as if it gets “wet” the sugar will lose its crispness and get tacky.

Nov 10

The Best Chocolate Chip Cookie

Of all the desserts, sugary items, oozy and gooey treats to indulge in and decadent things to eat…there is only one that will forever have my heart. I have been told that I make delicious custards and puddings, I have made cakes that are both rich and light, I can make munch-worthy candies, I can even flambé and brulee until your heart is content. But none of these things can hold a candle to my all-time favorite “dessert like” item: the ever beloved, Chocolate Chip Cookie.

The best chocolate chip cookies stacked high after cooling.

The best chocolate chip cookies stacked high after cooling.

The last time I was out with my family we walked into a bakery and café. They all laughed at me as we placed our orders. Of course I ordered a chocolate chip cookie and my mother said to my dad, “Some things will never change!” I have written on here before about my love of this divine treat and my memory of the first time I made these lovely and oh so wonderful cookies. Throughout time it is the only item I continuously go back to; I am always game for a good cookie. Yes, I have had some bad ones, but I have tried to wipe them from my memory! I personally feel there is a time and place for each kind of cookie; whether it has the qualities of being chewy, soft, crispy, crunchy, dunkable, or gooey.

I am in love with this Chocolate Chip Cookie.

I am in love with this Chocolate Chip Cookie.

Several months ago I read an article on Serious Eats written by, J. Kenji López-Alt; about the man who set out on a quest to find the best recipe for a chocolate chip cookie.  Through trial and error
he literally tried a ton of recipes (Reading the article was refreshing actually. It made me feel like I was not alone with my crazed obsessions over food!). The end result was a mighty fine cookie. At first the recipe seemed like a bizarre mixing technique and brown butter. Call me strange but I was aroused and intrigued. I dove right in on the first free evening I had and I could not believe the outcome. They had great texture, the edges were crisp, and the cookie’s center had a nice balance of soft yet chewiness. The crumb of the cookie was subtle and the over the top finish was the light dusting of sea salt that you catch in just about every other bite. I will admit, I have made this recipe quite a few times now. Each and every time I share one of these chocolate chip cookies with someone they raise their brow because their taste buds have been alerted…yes, they know they just tasted the best chocolate chip cookie. I could go on and on about this recipe, but I will leave you with his exact measurements & instructions, you will have to let me know if you totally fall in love with the cookies like I have.

I savor every last bit of these cookies.

I savor every last bit of these cookies.

The Best Chocolate Chip Cookie (makes about 28 cookies)

8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter

1 standard ice cube (about 2 tablespoons frozen water)

10 ounces (about 2 cups) all-purpose flour

3/4 teaspoon baking soda

2 teaspoons Diamond Crystal kosher salt or 1 teaspoon table salt

5 ounces (about 3/4 cup) granulated sugar

2 large eggs

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

5 ounces (about 1/2 tightly packed cup plus 2 tablespoons) dark brown sugar

8 ounces semi-sweet chocolate, roughly chopped with a knife into 1/2- to 1/4-inch chunks

Coarse sea salt for garnish

Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Cook, gently swirling pan constantly, until particles begin to turn golden brown and butter smells nutty, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and continue swirling the pan until the butter is a rich brown, about 15 seconds longer. Transfer to a medium bowl, whisk in ice cube, transfer to refrigerator, and allow to cool completely, about 20 minutes, whisking occasionally. (Alternatively, whisk over an ice bath to hasten process).

Meanwhile, whisk together flour, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl. Place granulated sugar, eggs, and vanilla extract in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Whisk on medium high speed until mixture is pale brownish-yellow and falls off the whisk in thick ribbons when lifted, about 5 minutes.

Fit paddle attachment onto mixer. When brown butter mixture has cooled (it should be just starting to turn opaque again and firm around the edges), Add brown sugar and cooled brown butter to egg mixture in stand mixer. Mix on medium speed to combine, about 15 seconds. Add flour mixture and mix on low speed until just barely combined but some dry flour still remains, about 15 seconds. Add chocolate and mix on low until dough comes together, about 15 seconds longer. Transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate dough at least overnight and up to three days.

When ready to bake, adjust oven racks to upper and lower middle positions and preheat oven to 325°F. Using a 1-ounce ice cream scoop or a spoon, place scoops of cookie dough onto a non-stick or parchment-lined baking sheet. Each ball should measure approximately 3 tablespoons in volume and you should be able to fit 6 to 8 balls on each sheet. Transfer to oven and bake until golden brown around edges but still soft, 13 to 16 minutes, rotating pans back to front and top and bottom half way through baking.

Remove baking sheets from oven. While cookies are still hot, sprinkle very lightly with coarse salt and gently press it down to embed. Let cool for 2 minutes, then transfer cookies to a wire rack to cool completely.

Repeat steps 3 and 4 for remaining cookie dough. Allow cookies to cool completely before storing in an airtight container, plastic bag, or cookie jar at room temperature for up to 5 days.

Oct 30

Potato Pancakes, a.k.a. Latkes with Apple Butter

It is getting cooler here. The leaves are changing and Halloween is any day now. It is only a matter of time for the other holidays to be creeping up around the corner. When it gets to this time of year I crave so many different things in a very random and somewhat schizophrenic manner too. But it is okay because I know it and admit it.

Years ago Brian and I spent the holidays in San Francisco. We ate at a Thai restaurant for Christmas Eve and an Indian buffet for Christmas Dinner. We now always think about spicy peanut sauce, and curry on and around Christmas dinner. Living in Phoenix a friend’s family always had Tamales with their holiday dinners; even for Thanksgiving. We think of them often and crave some of them with salsas along with rice and beans.  Let us not forget Pizza. A few years ago we were in London for Thanksgiving. We ended up eating pizza on that particular Thursday. There is something so appetizing about pizza or tamales, more so than the tradition of turkey.

Potato Pancakes, a.k.a. Latkes with Apple Butter and Sour Cream

Potato Pancakes, a.k.a. Latkes with Apple Butter and Sour Cream

So this morning I got up and after walking the girls, and bringing back coffee for Brian, I wandered into the kitchen to make some potato pancakes. Why potato pancakes you might ask? Well for a couple years I worked for a Kosher catering company. It was now that we would start to prep for their Hanukkah celebrations. Potato Pancakes (aka: Latkes) were always on the menu. Latkes or Potato Pancakes are delicious, scrumptious, and desirably indulgent if you ask me. When made right they are light, crispy, slightly salty, and tender. When they were making them in the catering kitchen it was not uncommon for the other pastry chef and me to sneak a few and indulge in them while sitting on top of 50# sacks of flour for a break. While I was walking the girls and breathing in the cool morning air I thought of those mornings and had to whip a batch up.

Frying up the Potato Pancakes

Frying up the Potato Pancakes

Now there is arguably many ways to eat potato pancakes. There are some I know who are die hard “Jewish Deli” traditionalists and get theirs with a side of thick sour crème to dip the pancakes into. Others I know will indulge with a smear of apple sauce across them. And if you were to ask my friend Rumi (and also the other pastry chef I worked with at this company) the best way to eat the potato pancakes was with a sprinkle of salt across them, nothing more.

As always, I tend to go a little differently as most with my palate. I prefer some apple butter and sour cream. Yes, in my opinion the rich sweetness of the apple butter mingle well with the slightly sour and rich crème on top of these crispy pancakes. But what can I say? This Italian American girl who grew up in New Jersey really did not know much about Potato Pancakes until I worked for this company. I really didn’t know about many of these foods before I left New Jersey. Now, I crave tamales, Thai spicy peanut sauce, Indian curry, and pizza; while most are eating very traditional foods. In my mind I would still love to be sitting with Brian indulging in something foreign in a faraway city, rather than eating out of tradition. I would much rather be picking up tamale from my friends mom and enjoying this Mexican tradition than cooking the same meal again and again. I would love to sit on those sacks of flour and enjoy some Latkes with Rumi as the holiday approach rather than eating something “pumpkin spiced” like most I know are during this time of year. It is always better to try new things. Just think of the new memories you create by doing so. Like the potato pancakes I shared with Brian this morning. And he agreed, the apple butter is a real nice touch!

Apple Butter I made the night before to go along with the Potato Pancakes.

Apple Butter I made the night before to go along with the Potato Pancakes.

Potato Pancakes, a.k.a. Latkes (serves 4)

3 cups of peeled and grated, Russet Potatoes (from about 2 large potatoes)

2 shallots, minced

½ cup of A.P. flour

½ tsp of baking soda

1 tsp of sea salt

2 eggs

Vegetable Oil for frying (*see note)

Sea salt and black pepper to taste

Sour Cream, for serving

Apple Butter, for serving (recipe below)

First, take your grated potatoes and place in a kitchen towel or a piece of cheese cloth and squeeze them over your sink. You are doing this to wring out all the excess moisture. Keep squeezing until the potatoes are quite dry. This is important because it is what makes the pancakes light, skipping this step will result in a soggy pancake.

Next, place your grated potatoes in a bow. Over the potatoes sprinkle the flour, baking soda, and sea salt. Toss it well to coat the potatoes. To this add your eggs and stir until mixture is combined.

Then, place a large frying pan over medium heat.  Once pan is warmed through, poor about ¼ inch of oil in the pan.

Finally, gently place about a ¼ cup full of your potato mixture into your hot oil. Slightly flatten the mixture, and once the edges are golden and browned you can flip to pancake to cook on the other side. Once both sides are golden and firm place on a paper towel lined plate to drain. Sprinkle with some sea salt and black pepper and serve while still warm.

*Note: when frying I like to use rice or peanut oil. Both have a high smoke point and a clean flavor. But if you prefer another kind that is fine too, just keep in mind an oil like olive oil can burn and smoke easily if it gets too hot.

Apple Butter (makes about 1 ½ cup)

4 medium apples, Pink Lady or Honey Crisp work well

¾ cup of sugar

2 tbsp of honey

1 cup of dry white wine

½ tsp of cinnamon

½ tsp of vanilla extract

First, peel and core your apples. Chop the apples into 1 inch pieces and place in a medium sized pot. Over the apples pout the sugar, honey, wine, cinnamon, and vanilla. Stir it well. If needed, you can add a bit of water to the mixture as you want the apples to be almost covered by liquid.

Next, place the pot over a medium heat and stir it frequently until it starts to simmer. Once it is simmering, you should lower the heat a bit. Continue to simmer the apples stirring them frequently. You are looking for the apples to become tender, somewhat caramelized, and most of the liquid cooked out of it.

Then, remove the apples from the heat and let it cool for a bit. Once cooled puree the mixture until smooth. If there is a lot of liquid in your puree or the puree is “runny” you can place it back in a pot and over low heat. You will want to stir the mixture constantly until the majority of the liquid has evaporated and the mixture has thickened. Once it is there re-move from the heat.

Finally, when your puree is ready you can place in in a clean jar or container and refrigerate it until ready to use. Apple Butter will keep up to a month.

Oct 27

Stuffed Acorn Squash – so easy!

I have noticed that my husband’s coworkers have asked him things about my day to day life. To some of them it is a curiosity, “Your wife gets up at what time?” “And you get home and there is dinner on the table?”  And one of my favorites: “You mean she still cooks after she has cooked and baked all day?”

Stuffed squash ready for the oven.

Stuffed squash ready for the oven.

I personally never gave it much thought. Yes, I am up and out the door on the average day by 4:30 / 5:00 in the morning, but I am through with my day by 2:00. Yes, I stand in front of a hot oven and stove, but not for that long. Plus, I love what I do! Maybe that is crazy, but there is always a little bit of crazy for just about anyone I have met that works in a kitchen. I generally come home, relax for a bit, walk our dogs, go to a café to get some reading in or research done, and then head back home to start dinner.

015

To me cooking dinner is second nature. I open the refrigerator, find something, and cook it up. But maybe this is odd?!? I recently had the pleasure of going to see a discussion and lecture with Mark Bittman. (If you do not know he is the ever popular columist for the New York Times and book author.) He said something that shocked me: Only about 30% of the average American is cooking at home! 30%!!!! Why is that not a bigger number? Why are we not cooking? What are these people eating? I can go on and on, but it really made me sad when it is so easy. Like the other day I cut open an acorn squash and roasted it till tender. I sauted some corn and filled up the cavity of the squash and placed it back in the oven. In the meantime I did some laundry, read a magazine, and listened to some music. No real fuss, just multi-tasking if you asked me. By 6:30 I was sitting down with dinner. A really yummy and easy dinner if you ask me. No fuss, I just opened up my refrigerator and cabinets and used what I had on hand. It cannot get much simpler than that. Give it a try sometime! Don’t be a part of that 70% that is eating – who knows what!

Digging in!

Digging in!

Stuffed Acorn Squash (feeds 2)

*This recipe can easily be doubled or tripled. The filling was more than enough for the size squash I had. I saved the extra and tossed it with another egg or two and made a scramble!

**This is great to serve with a tossed salad.

1 acorn squash, cut in half lengthwise with seeds and insides scraped out

2 tbsp of olive oil

1 shallot, chopped small

1-2 Serrano chili, chopped small

2 cloves of garlic, minced

1 can of corn

½ cup of grated cheddar cheese

¼ cup of crème

1 egg

Sea Salt and fresh black pepper to taste

First, preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Foil or parchment line a sheet pan and brush it with a bit of olive oil. Place the acorn squash on the pan cut side up and brush all over with the remainder of the olive oil. Sprinkle it with sea salt and black pepper and place it in the center of your oven. Let it all roast about 30 minutes, rotating it half way through.

Meanwhile, place a large frying pan over medium heat and add the butter. Once butter has melted add your shallot, garlic, and chili. Let it all simmer until the shallot is translucent. Add in your corn and stir it often until heated through. Add in the cream and stir it until the cream starts to simmer and remove from the heat.

Then, when the corn mixture cools a bit add in about ¼ cup of the cheese and egg and stir well. Test the acorn squash to see if it is tender. Once the flesh is easily pierced with a knife it is ready.

Finally, remove the acorn squash from the oven and fill the cavity with the corn mixture you have. Season it with sea salt and black pepper, top it with the remaining cheese and place it back in the oven for about 30 minutes, or until golden.

Oct 20

My (larger than life) Aunt Marge, and a Mushroom Pate that reminds me of her.

I have been wanting for some time to sit and write about my Aunt Marge. However, I found it just too hard. My Aunt Marge was an extraordinary person. When she passed late last year my heart was broken and it was all too personal for me.  You see she was more than a great aunt to me, more like an anchor to the whole family. My Aunt Marge alone was a source of support and stability to all her brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, cousins, grandchildren and more. She was the oldest of my father’s Aunts and Uncles and a step-sister to my grandfather.

My Great Aunt Marge, just the way I will always remember her...smiling!

My Great Aunt Marge, just the way I will always remember her…smiling!

If there was ever a moment in my life that I can reflect on growing up, My Aunt Marge and my Uncle Jimmy (her husband) were there. I can still clearly remember nursery rhymes she sang to us. There were trips to the mall, dancing school recitals, school plays, graduations, religious ceremonies, getting ready for the prom, going to college, my wedding day – my Aunt Marge was there for it all. I can remember when I was in grade school my parents went away for a week and my Aunt Marge asked if she and my Uncle Jimmy could watch us. She was so happy having us there. She helped us with our homework and then let us watches whatever we wanted on TV. I can remember my sister whispering to me “Danielle, she is not cooking anything. When are we going to eat dinner?” I looked at my aunt and asked “Aunt Marge, when will we eat dinner?” She responded with “Just tell me when you’re hungry and what you want and it is yours!”  As it turns out she prepared and stocked the refrigerator with some of my and my sister’s favorite meals. She let us pick what we wanted and heated it up. She also let us watch TV while we ate! My sister looked at me and said, “We never get to do this at home!” The whole time was such a treat.

My Aunt Marge and Uncle Jimmy (circa 1980's) I wish it was a better picture but it is one of the only ones I have of them.

My Aunt Marge and Uncle Jimmy (circa 1980’s)
I wish it was a better picture but it is one of the only ones I have of them.

In the past year I continually remembered things she did or said. It is funny how that happens. Even after she is gone it is like she is still here in my presence. I finished a book not too long ago that I really enjoyed, as I closed the book I could hear her voice: “Reading is a great way to use your imagination, it can take you anywhere!” I was slicing a loaf of bread one day in my kitchen and it was like she was right there. I could hear her saying, “Eat the heel of the bread and you will get pretty, curly hair Danielle.” (An old wives tail she always expressed and quite possibly why I have more curls today than I ever did.) I turned on the TV the other day and Little Women was on. I instantly thought of my Aunt Marge, she once asked if I ever read the book and when I said no she returned a week later with a copy of the book for me. “I think you will enjoy this, every girl should read it!”

My Aunt Marge was intelligent beyond her schooling. She could pull up facts, dates, times, names, anything – all within the snap of a finger. It fascinated all who encountered her. She was always up on current events, women’s rights, politics, small town issues, popular culture, and slang terms. In some ways I always felt she was a head of her time, and wise beyond her years. The other day I was cooking mushrooms in my kitchen and I thought of her. I was making a Mushroom Pate and I thought, “I wish she was here, I think she would love this dish.” When Brian and I sat at the dinner table to enjoy it I dipped into the Pate I could hear her voice. “Do you believe in double dipping?” Aunt Marge was the one to introduce the term to me (long before it was mentioned on a Seinfeld episode). We were in my parent’s living room and my mom put out a platter of raw vegetables and dip. I can remember my mom looking at me and saying “You always are on top of new topics Aunt Marge.”

Mushroom Pate, and resisting to double dip.

Mushroom Pate, and resisting to double dip.

So there you have it. Aunt Marge was a head of her time – inspiring, and a huge influence on my life. But I don’t look at it like she is gone. I mean I just have to see a movie, read a book, cook something, or eat something and it is like she is right there again. She was one of a kind, and we all have been fortunate to have her as a part of our family. In fact, I find this mushroom pate a lot like my Aunt. The pate is tender, savory, a hint of sweetness, easy going while being elegant, and memorable. I told Brian some of my Aunt Marge memories while we ate and he smiled. She really was a special lady! Aunt Marge, thank you for everything, you are always on our mind and in my kitchen.

085

 

Mushroom Pate (feeds 6)

*I made this pate often when catering. It is always a crowd pleaser. The pate is rich in flavor and shocking to most that it is vegan as well. The balsamic reduction always makes people stop and ask what it is as it gives it a glistening black glaze covering it. It is great for a casual gathering or fancy enough for a holiday table.

4 cups of trimmed and sliced Crimini mushrooms

2 cups of onion, chopped small

Olive oil (at least ¼ cup)

¼ cup of brandy

2 cups of basil leaves

¼ cup of chives, roughly chopped

¾ cup pf pistachios

Sea salt and black pepper to taste

¾ cup of balsamic vinegar

2 tbsp of sugar

Bread, Italian or baguette, sliced (and toasted if you like)

First, place your pistachios in a small pot and cover with water by 2 inches. Place it over medium heat and bring it all to a simmer. You are looking for the nuts to become fork tender. It will take about 20 – 30 minutes depending on the nuts. Drain off the water when the nuts are ready and set aside.

Sauted mushrooms and onions.

Sauted mushrooms and onions.

Next, place a large (12 inch) sauté pan over medium heat. Once it is heated through pour about 3 tbsp of olive oil into it. Place the onions and mushrooms in the pan and let men sizzle and simmer, stirring it all often. Keep an eye on the pan as you do not want it to have your mushrooms and onions stick or start to burn. If they stick you can add a tiny bit more of olive oil at a time. Once the onions start to turn translucent you can add a bit of sea salt and black pepper to it all. Once the onions are translucent and the mushrooms are tender and golden you can add the brandy. Let it all simmer until all the brandy is absorbed and cooked down to barely enough liquid to coat the bottom of the pan. Remove from the heat and set aside until cooled.

Meanwhile, place you balsamic vinegar on a small pan with the sugar and give it a stir. Place it all over a medium heat and bring it to a simmer. Keeping an eye on it, you want it to reduce by half and no more. Once it is reduced remove it from the heat and set aside.

Then, in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the blade attachment; place your pistachios. Pulse the nuts until they are a past.  To this add your basil and chives and pulse your mixture until the herbs are chopped well into the nuts.  Once herbs are chopped add in your mushrooms and onions and puree until it is all a smooth paste like mixture. If the mixture is stiff you can add a bit of olive oil (no more than 1-2 tbsp) to help loose it up to be a smooth paste.  Season it with sea salt and black pepper to taste.

080

Finally, place your nut and mushroom mixture in a serving dish or crock. Spread it out evenly pressing it into the dish. Over the top pour the balsamic reduction you made. You are looking for the reduction the coat the top evenly. I like to tilt my dish back and forth to be sure it is even. Cove the dish and chill for at least an hour before serving. Serve with sliced crusty bread and extra herbs you may have as a garnish.

Oct 14

Pastina

I had the opportunity to catch up with some great old work buddies recently. We joked around, had a couple of drinks, laughed a lot, and reminisced about crazy work experiences that I believe only we have personally gone through together. It was a good time and as I walked my one friend to her car and back to home myself I could feel my cheeks sore. The soreness you only get after a good night of laughter with great people.

I woke up earlier than my alarm the next morning and my throat was scratchy. My only thought was that I laughed too much last night, and obviously stayed out a bit too late when you have to be at work as early as I the next day. I didn’t think I should have been alarmed, but the following day I felt terrible. To make matters worse Brian rolled over and said he had a scratchy throat!  By the time weekend hit we were both under the weather. Numerous cups of tea were consumed and lots of soup.

One of the few boxes of Pastina I brought home from our New Jersey visit.

One of the few boxes of Pastina I brought home from our New Jersey visit.

A week later and we are finally better. It dawned on me that we went the whole week with a cold and neither of us had or made Pastina! How could we have not thought of it is beyond me. You see Pastina is something both of us always had growing up when you had a cold or were under the weather. Pastina is just really tiny pasta. Moving away from the east coast we had a hard time finding it. I use to get really small boxes of it at an Italian deli in Phoenix, but since our move to Seattle I have not found it anywhere. When we were in New Jersey in May I stopped in at a local shop and picked up a few boxes to take back home with us. My mom always made it for me and my sister by simmering it in broth and topping it with grated cheese. Brian said his parents often made it by boiling it in water, draining it, and stirring in some butter and black pepper. To be honest with you, both ways are really good. But since I had it on my mind I had to make it for myself this afternoon.  I opted for the simmering in broth version, but if you choose to make it; do it any way you wish. And if you are not feeling well, a bowl of this will instantly make you feeling better. Trust me!

Warm bowl of Pastina with broth and freshly grated cheese.

Warm bowl of Pastina with broth and freshly grated cheese.

Pastina in Broth (feeds 1)

2 cups of broth (chicken or vegetable), homemade is best

¼ cup of Pastina (or any small shaped pasta)

Pinch of cayenne pepper

Sea Salt and black pepper to taste

Freshly grated Parmesan

First; place the broth in a small pot and place it over high heat. Bring it to a simmer and add in the pastina. Be sure to stir it often as you do not want it to begin to stick.

Next; you can sprinkle in the sea salt and black pepper to taste and a bit of cayenne. Still you should be stirring it constantly.

Finally, you will notice the pastina will have swelled and absorbed the majority of the broth. I like to taste it to be sure the pasta is cooked through all the way. Once it is cooked through you can pour it into a bowl and serve with cheese grated over it,

Oct 05

Roasted Squash Salad with Chive Dressing

With all the craziness of non-stop family, friends, and entertaining for Brian’s birthday weekend it was time to sit back and enjoy life for a bit. Time to take it all in and enjoy the beautiful autumn weather we were experiencing.

Roasted Squash Salad

Roasted Squash Salad

The fun part of all the autumn and fall foods are the squashes that you start to see. Acorn, delicata, pumpkin, or butternut – there are so many I can go on and on.  Roasting any of them is great. I love the simplicity of coating them in a bit of olive oil, sprinkling them with sea salt and black pepper, then placing them in a hot oven to roast for a bit. Doing this lets their flavors intensify, and the natural earthy sweetness is more prevalent. In my personal opinion the only other thing that has a “fall” or and “autumn” flavor as much as the squash are nuts.

Now I love the bold flavors of roasting any of these squash, but we just came off of a week of eating and indulging in more than we possible should have. Something simple, something like a salad was more in order. So I decided on using what was freshest at the farmer’s markets this past week representing a last of the summer harvest and the newest of the autumn. A lovely head of red leafed lettuce, the first of the delicata squash, a great bunch of chives, and some freshly pulled mozzarella. When you put it all together with some crunchy croutons are all the makings of a great salad. It was fresh and bright. It was satisfying and refreshing to eat. Not to mention real easy to mix up. Put one salad together and see for yourself. It is perfect for these great autumn days.

Plated Roasted Squash Salad with Chive Dressing drizzled over the top.

Plated Roasted Squash Salad with Chive Dressing drizzled over the top.

Roasted Squash Salad (feeds 4)

1 medium Delicata Squash; trimmed, seeded, and sliced

1 small head of red leafed lettuce (like butter or romaine); trimmed, washed, and chopped

1 – 2 balls of Fresh Mozzarella, sliced thin

¾ cup of Pistachios

2 cups of Freshly Made Croutons

1 bunch of chives (about ¼ cup)

1/3 cup white wine vinegar

1 tsp of Dijon mustard

1 tbsp of Honey

Olive Oil

Bread (day or two old is best), sliced into 1 – 2 inch cubes

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

First, preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Toss your squash with a bit of olive oil (enough to cover) and place on a baking sheet lined with parchment. Sprinkle a bit of sea salt and black pepper over it all and roast about 3 minutes, rotating it half way through. Roast it until tender when pierced with a knife and set aside to cool.

Next, in a bowl place your bread cubes. Drizzle it all with a bit of olive oil and toss a few times to coat them evenly. Sprinkle them with sea salt and black pepper and toss again. Spread you bread cubes on a sheet pan and place in the oven to “dry out” and toast. Timing will depend of type of bread and how dry it was to start. Bake them tossing them every so often until they are golden and toasty; set them aside to cool.

Meanwhile; on a platter arrange your salad by layering your lettuce, squash, mozzarella, and sprinkle it all with the pistachios and croutons. In a blender or food processor place your vinegar, Dijon, honey, and chives. Pulse it all together to begin to break it all down. While doing this drizzle in about ½ a cup or more of your olive oil until it is all emulsified and you end up with a slightly thick dressing. Sprinkle it with sea salt and black pepper to taste.

Finally, divide up the salad on your plates. When serving the salad keep the dressing on the side so that guest can add as much as they like.

Sep 30

Brian celebrates 40 years young with surprises and Flourless Chocolate Cake

Last week was my husband’s 40th birthday. Celebrating was in order. I planned the weekend of his birthday months in advance. You see I knew that his parents and brother were flying in to surprise him. So I looked around, booked a room at a local restaurant for the party, asked him to make a guest list, we picked out the menu, and then I asked him if there was any dessert he would like what would it be? He said he had to think about it, and that was fine by me…because I was now not only keeping the secret that his parents and brother were arriving, but that my sister was flying in too.

The French Apple Tarts and Flourless Chocolate Cake all read for the celebration!

The French Apple Tarts and Flourless Chocolate Cake all read for the celebration!

As the weeks went by I asked Brian again what dessert he would like. After some contemplating, he came to a conclusion of two desserts! Could I blame him? Absolutely not! He wanted two very different desserts, so that everyone could possibly have something they like. (One of the many qualities I admire about him; he is always thinking of everyone.) Brian asked for me to make something very fall, very fitting – a simple French Apple Tart. These tarts are easy, and elegant in their own way. The other dessert he requested…Flourless Chocolate Cake! I should have known this is the one thing Brian would have asked for. When we had a bakery he loved indulging in a slice of this cake from time to time as we always had it on the menu. It is rich, smooth in texture, possess deep chocolate flavor, and lays nicely on the tongue.  A rich and flourless chocolate cake topped with chocolate ganche; it was very elegant and sophisticated.  Both desserts were quite fitting for a 40th birthday celebration if you ask me.

Two tiered Flourless Chocolate Cake, topped with Chocolate Ganache and 24 kt. Gold Leafing.

Two tiered Flourless Chocolate Cake, topped with Chocolate Ganache and 24 kt. Gold Leafing.

So while planning the finalities on the desserts I got a phone call from my parents. They decided to fly in last minute for Brian’s birthday too. Oh, and they wanted it to be a surprise as well. So now I had three very big secrets to keep from Brian and two very special desserts to make. This was going to be some party. So on the Wednesday before his birthday I called Brian in the afternoon and asked if I could take him on a date. Where did I take him? To the local Marriott, I surprised him with his parents and brother waiting in the lobby for him. You should have seen the look on his face. He was dumbfounded and shocked. The next afternoon I had made reservations for lunch at the restaurant I work for. Brian walked in and was surprised with my parents there too (surprise # 2) . He was grinning and told me- “Wow! I feel so loved!” The following day I came home from work with my sister in tow…Surprise #3! Brian was swept away with glee. He said to me the next day as I got underway with the dessert, “I am overwhelmed. I really cannot believe that everyone is here for me. And now, it’s almost time for cake!” You have got to love his enthusiasm.

The night of the party went really well. Brian’s friends, co-workers, and our families had a great time. We all indulged on some great eats, many libations, and then some desserts! Both of the desserts I made were big hits and some people took home a slice or two with them. Three big surprises, festivities that lasted all week long equal out to a not so bad birthday celebration in my book. Brian was a bit overwhelmed and taken back. He kept repeating to me- “It was only a birthday, everyone didn’t have to come all this way.” I think it was a memorable birthday for him. That and I think he choose well where dessert was concerned. Maybe it is experience that comes with age? Or maybe he is just good when it comes to deciding sweets? I will let you decide that one. For now, Happy Birthday Brian! So glad it was a special one.

Sparklers ontop of cake to celebrate.

Sparklers ontop of cake to celebrate.

Flourless Chocolate Cake (makes one 8-9 inch cake)

*This recipe can be doubled easily. For Brian’s birthday cake I doubled it and split it between a 10 inch and 8 inch cake pan.

1 lb of bitter sweet chocolate (chopped if needed)

5 oz. of butter

5 eggs (separated)

1 tbsp of sugar

First, on a double boiler melt down the chocolate and the butter until smooth, let it cool slightly.

Next, preheat your oven to 300 degrees, and grease an 8 inch pan, then line the bottom with parchment.

Then, using a mixer on high speed wisk the egg whites until foamy. Gradually add the sugar. Continue to whisk until stiff peaks form. But do not over whisk.

Meanwhile, blend the yolks with the chocolate mixture until smooth. Gently fold in the whipped whites a third of them at a time into your chocolate mixture. Do not over mix or the whites will clasps. But be sure not to leave any streaks in the batter either.

Finally, scrape the batter into the prepared pan and bake in a water bath for 25 – 40 minutes until slightly set and lightly firm. Cool on a wire rack and then chill in the refrigerator 8 hours or overnight. It will then be ready to pop out of pan and use. If you gently heat the bottom of your pan your cake should quickly pop out of the pan.

 

Chocolate Ganache (enough for 1 cake)

5 oz.  Semi-sweet chocolate (chips are fine but chopped chocolate is best)

1/2 cups cream

First, place Cream and chocolate in a bowl of a double boiler over medium heat (there should only be an inch or two of water in the pan, and the bowl should not be touching the water).

Next, you will want to gently stir the chocolate and the cream together as the chocolate melts. You will keep stirring until your chocolate and cream have unison and are a smooth sauce, and glossy looking.

Finally, remove your mixture from heat and let cool slightly before using.  You will want to pour the ganache over the top center of the cake and let it gently drip down the sides. Let it chill together so that the ganache sets.  Note: If using you can decorate with some gold leafing. A little bit goes a long way. Serve at room temperature. (can hold up to 4 days in a refrigerator if needed.)

Older posts «

%d bloggers like this: